Major Nzeogwu's Anti-corruption Coup Speech

Nzeogwu's Declaration of Martial Law - January 15, 1966



In the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution of the Nigerian Armed Forces, I declare martial law over the Northern Provinces of Nigeria. The Constitution is suspended and the regional government and elected assemblies are hereby dissolved. All political, cultural, tribal and trade union activities, together with all demonstrations and unauthorized gatherings, excluding religious worship, are banned until further notice.

The aim of the Revolutionary Council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife. Our method of achieving this is strictly military but we have no doubt that every Nigerian will give us maximum cooperation by assisting the regime and not disturbing the peace during the slight changes that are taking place.

I am to assure all foreigners living and working in this part of Nigeria that their rights will continue to be respected. All treaty obligations previously entered into with any foreign nation will be respected and we hope that such nations will respect our country's territorial integrity and will avoid taking sides with enemies of the revolution and enemies of the people.

My dear countrymen, you will hear, and probably see a lot being done by certain bodies charged by the Supreme Council with the duties of national integration, supreme justice, general security and property recovery. As a interim measure all permanent secretaries, corporation chairmen and senior heads of departments are allowed to make decisions until the new organs are functioning, so long as such decisions are not contrary to the aims and wishes of the Supreme Council. No Minister or Parliamentary Secretary possesses administrative or other forms of control over any Ministry, even if they are not considered too dangerous to be arrested.

This is not a time for long speech-making and so let me acquaint you with ten proclamations in the Extraordinary Orders of the Day which the Supreme Council has promulgated. These will be modified as the situation improves.

You are hereby warned that looting, arson, homosexuality, rape, embezzlement, bribery or corruption, obstruction of the revolution, sabotage, subversion, false alarms and assistance to foreign invaders, are all offences punishable by death sentence.

Demonstrations and unauthorized assembly, non-cooperation with revolutionary troops are punishable in grave manner up to death.

Refusal or neglect to perform normal duties or any task that may of necessity be ordered by local military commanders in support of the change will be punishable by a sentence imposed by the local military commander.

Spying, harmful or injurious publications, and broadcasts of troop movements or actions, will be punished by any suitable sentence deemed fit by the local military commander.

Shouting of slogans, loitering and rowdy behavior will be rectified by any sentence of incarceration, or any more severe punishment deemed fit by the local military commander.

Doubtful loyalty will be penalized by imprisonment or any more severe sentence.

Illegal possession or carrying of firearms, smuggling or trying to escape with documents, valuables, including money or other assets vital to the running of any establishment will be punished by death sentence.

Wavering or siting on the fence and failing to declare open loyalty with the revolution will be regarded as an act of hostility punishable by any sentence deemed suitable by the local military commander.

Tearing down an order of the day or proclamation or other authorized notices will be penalized by death.

This is the end of the Extraordinary Order of the Day which you will soon begin to see displayed in public.

My dear countrymen, no citizen should have anything to fear, so long as that citizen is law abiding and if that citizen has religiously obeyed the native laws of the country and those set down in every heart and conscience since 1st October, 1960. Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds. Like good soldiers we are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular. But what we do promise every law abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency and freedom to live and strive in every field of human endeavour, both nationally and internationally. We promise that you will know more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian.

I leave you with a message of good wishes and ask for your support at all times, so that our land, watered by the Niger and Benue, between the sandy wastes and gulf of guinea, washed in salt by the mighty Atlantic, shall not detract Nigeria from gaining sway in any great aspect of international endeavour.

My dear countrymen, this is the end of this speech. I wish you all goodluck and I hope you will cooperate to the fullest in this job which we have set for ourselves of establishing a prosperous nation and achieving solidarity. 

Thank you very much and goodbye for now.

By Major Kaduna Nzeogwu Jan. 1966

Whatever flaws he had and whatever misgivings anyone has about Major Nzeogwu, what cannot be denied is that he carried out Nigeria’s first coup against corruption and misrule at those early stages when corruption and misrule was beginning to eat into the fabric of the nation.

With the ravaging corruption in today’s Nigeria Nzeogwu is my hero for being Nigeria’s Jerry Rawlings at that earlier time trying to rid the nation of corruption?


Revisiting the July 10 Coup

Nigeria naturally owing to its years of military rule has had its fair share of coup plots. A litany of these violent and unconstitutional seizures of power by a particular clique is embedded in the tapestry of our nation’s history. A run down from the Nzeogwu coup of January the 15th 1966 to the misguided Counter coup of July the 29th 1966 and up to the Sani Abacha putsch of 1993 are all base points in our national history when issues such as this are discussed . But Nigerians have largely failed to acknowledge that in the same history of ours, coup plotting hasn’t been the exclusive preserve of the military boys as their civilian counterparts have at one point in time or the other dabbled into such an enterprise though unlike the military they have engaged in such acts sparingly. Examples abound.

The first Coup in our nation, that is the first concentrated assault on a democratic elected government by the use violent means and unfair ends to edge out such a lawfully constituted government was indeed perpetuated in 1964 by the then Premier of the Western Region, Sir Ladoke Akintola and his army of supporters in collusion with the Sardauna of Sokoto and the then Prime Minister Sir Tafawa Balewa, where they usurped powers belonging to the Western Region to impose Akintola upon the people of that Region. Ironically at the same time the likes of Chief Awolowo and his supporters were arrested and tried on trumped of charges of coup plotting for which they received heavy sentences. The rest is history as the crisis largely led to the fall and collapse of the First Republic

Another classical example takes an illustrative flight from Anambra State, where a Godfather and his horde of idolaters in connivance with certain powers at the centre did make an attempt at wresting power out of the hands of the Anambra people in the coup of July the 10th 2003.

Owing to the lackluster performance of Dr. Chinwuko Mbadinuju, members of the Peoples Democratic Party, the PDP had expressed reservations about Dr. Mbadinuju returning for a second term, even the jostle for Mbadinuju’s job amongst party faithful took a frightful turn as every Okoro, Ononiba and Okafor jockeyed for that position unlike the trend in other states where the incumbent governor was naturally given unalloyed support from party faithful. Mbadinuju naturally proved a hard sell, as Anambra State under his administration had witnessed a massive collapse of its socio-political cum socio economic institutions; life in the state was simply what the English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes had termed as nasty, shortish and brutish.

Worried by the apparent lapse of our critical and moral faculties, the PDP then began to shop for an acceptable candidate, one who would change the face of Anambra’s politics and bring back the state its days of glory, one man met the bill, one man topped the pack, that man was Dr. Chris Ngige.

In the aftermath of the elections, Ngige quickly moved to restore governance to the state and fashioned a roadmap for that. Integrity and service were the intended hallmarks of his philosophy and from the beginning he sought to get it right, But the evils of backstairs politics soon began to rear its head when a self-styled godfather drunken with arrogance then began to conceive ideas of contrariety of interest against the agreement of all stakeholders in Anambra that it would not be business as usual nor would participants of the old order be allowed to partake in the business of the new government. The godfather would have none of this, like the nel plus ultra of a gangster he sought certain debatable concessions and threatened to let all hell loose if his requests weren’t accepted. Governor Ngige possessing a first class civil service background with the understanding of the dreadful consequences of failing the good people of Anambra stuck to his guns, yet with the meditative air of a politician hoped that the godfather would sift ground and perhaps sheathe his greed, the godfather chose otherwise, adhering to his maniacal course, the rest is history as the day July the 10th 2003 forever lives in infamy.

But what are the lessons drawn from this sad occurrence? Can it not be said that certain gains were also attained from this gory incident? Although the coup was defeated and Ngige without any form of restraints and unchained from the unholy alliance did cut through the bramble thickets of failed leadership when he launched governance on an unknown pedestal never witnessed before in the history of Nigeria. Where roads were built, schools were built, social services on large scales were provided, pensioners were paid their pensions to the kobo, teachers who had been on strike for a year were paid their salaries and no civil servant was owed beyond the 26th of that month. Students of the state owned university will always recall how the bearded governor touched by compassion and the understanding that education was a right and not a privilege as it is wrongly deemed by this ungrateful generation of leaders reduced their fees by 2/3rds the original amount and crime was fought to a standstill (vices like kidnapping and robbery which are prevalent today were unheard of) to many Ngige simply reinvented the soul of Anambra.

But the godfathers were not done yet as they tried every monkey trick they could lay their hands on. They engaged the courts with a violent mutation of the truth and managed to obtain some “Oluwole” judgments which naturally shocked the bench and all who came across such pronouncements. When that failed to work they then resorted to violence hoping that the then President Olusegun Obasanjo( An accident of history) who was believed to have given the gangsters the tacit backing they needed , would then declare a state of emergency and appoint a sole administrator. To their dismay, Ngige skillfully evaded such traps, maneuvering through the Minoan labyrinth that Anambra is with the sturdy thread of the nation’s goodwill until tragedy struck when on the 15th of March 2006 an Appeal Court judgement declared that Governor Ngige was unlawfully elected paving the way for Mr. Peter Obi who by and large was never up to snuff, the game plan was 2007 but then fate and some other factors played their own cards.

Yet truth be told, had Ngige danced as a marionette or had the godfather had the his way in the July 10th coup it would be plausible to argue that the biggest beneficiary and unfortunately the biggest squanderer of the gains of that hard won freedom in the person of Mr. Peter Obi would never have emerged as governor, to say that he never knew this is untrue and to deny it would be to accept the fact that square wheels are better than round ones.

Nevertheless it is my belief that history and posterity will forever pay tribute to Ngige, in Anambra’s pantheon he will stand as a nel plus ultra of a statesman, a visionary and a man of immense dynamism. He will forever be to us the bye word for courage in governance, vision in leadership and dynamism in politics.

Igboeli Arinze writes from Abuja



Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?

Max Siollun
Tuesday, August 4, 2000

A Grim Anniversary

Last week marked the 42nd anniversary of the death of Major Chukwuma

Major Nzeogwu

Kaduna Nzeogwu. Nzeogwu died in the final week of July 1967. While there is consensus that he died, exactly how he died and at the hands of whom has remained in dispute. In conspiracy rife Nigeria, all manner of rumours and apocryphal stories have alleged that Nzeogwu was murdered in a Machiavellian plot engineered by Ojukwu to eliminate him or perhaps that he was killed while trying to defect to join the federal army. As always, the truth is much more mundane.

Nzeogwu in Prison

For his role in Nigeria's first military coup, Nzeogwu was imprisoned by the military regime of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi at the notorious Kiri-Kiri maximum security prison in Lagos. His co-conspirators were also initially detained there but many of them were later moved to prisons in the Eastern Region: including Majors Ifeajuna (Uyo prison), Ademoyega, Onwuatuegwu (Enugu prison), Captain Gbulie (Abakaliki prison), Major Chukwuka, Captain Nwobosi (both Owerri prison). Nzeogwu was the only officer among the plotters that was moved to Aba prison. After Ironsi was overthrown in July 1966, Nzeogwu remained in prison until he was released in March 1967 by the Eastern Region's Military Governor Lt-Colonel Ojukwu.

Nzeogwu’s Rift With Ojukwu

However after his release his activities were curtailed. He and Ojukwu did not see eye to eye.

Nzeogwu was never enthusiastic about secession. As late as 1967 he articulated in an interview with Dennis Ejinduhis view that:

secession will be ill-advised, indeed impossible. Even if the East fights a war of secession and wins, it still cannot secede. Personally, I don’t like secession and if this country disintegrates, I shall pack up my things and go. In the present circumstances, confederation is the best answer as a temporary measure. In time, we shall have complete unity."

The interview did not go down well with Ojukwu and Nzeogwu’s words to Ejindu were the last official statements attributed to him before his death. Relations between Ojukwu and Nzeogwu deteriorated further as Nzeogwu made no secret of his desire for a united Nigeria. Even though war between Nigeria and Biafra was imminent, in April 1967 Nzeogwu was suspended from all military activities by Ojukwu. The immediate pretext was Nzeogwu’s involvement in a battle simulation military training exercise in Abakaliki and other towns in the Eastern Region. Recalling that Nzeogwu had turned the night time training Exercise Damissa€ into a full blown coup the previous year, Ojukwu banned all such further exercises. Relations between Ojukwu and Nzeogwu got bad enough for Ojukwu to consider putting Nzeogwu back in prison.

In a June 17, 1967 letter to his friend Olusegun Obasanjo, Nzeogwu confessed:

You have no doubt heard a lot of rumours about my relations with Ojukwu. We obviously see things quite differently after what he did to my supporters in January 1966. He is also worried about my popularity among his own people. I was to be put back in prison, but he was afraid of repercussions. Right now I am not allowed contact with troops nor am I permitted to operate on the staff. One gentleman’s agreement we have is that I can carry on with what ever pleases me.

Amazingly even at this late stage, Nzeogwu was still entertaining fantasies of Nigerian unity and reintegrating the Nigerian army:

I will create a new Nigerian army inside Biafra!! With Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and all other ethnic groups.€

Nzeogwu inspired and frightened with equal measure. A personality cult bordering on hero worship grew up around him in the Eastern Region and he was being feted as an immortal indestructible warrior. Although Ojukwu gave Nzeogwu the Biafran rank of Brigadier, he was not given any formal command in the Biafran army.

Despite not officially being part of the Biafran army command, Nzeogwu was not the type of character that could remain idle. His impulsive nature and rebelliousness towards superior officers has been documented. Lt-Col Patrick Anwunah went so far as to describe Nzeogwu as:

 radical and an inwardly insubordinate young officer..(who was) full of his own ideas and probably thought he had the answers to all problems. His statements and comments at that time gave me the impression that he could become insubordinate as he had no regard for senior officers.

Frustrated at his exclusion from military duties, Nzeogwu took to informal ad hoc guerilla raids against the federal army. He would impulsively conscript other soldiers to join him during these raids. It is not certain that these raids and conscriptions were authorised by Ojukwu.

Nzeogwu was admired and feared in equal measure. He was admired for his intelligence, warmth and charm. He was feared because of his suicidal courage. Junior Biafran foot soldiers were reluctant to be conscripted by Nzeogwu. Conscription by Nzeogwu meant being taken to the front line and faced with grave danger. Nzeogwu was brave enough to cross behind enemy lines, carry out reconnaissance and engage the federal army in close quarter combat. In late July 1967, his courage took him a step too far.

The Death of Nzeogwu

Nzeogwu had gone out on a reconnaissance mission in the Nsukka sector. He was travelling in an improvised armoured vehicle (known as a "Biafran Red Devil") that had been converted by the ingenious Biafran engineers from a Bedford truck. The vehicle was cumbersome despite its impressive ingenuity. The vehicle became immobilised and was surrounded by federal troops of the 21st battalion at a roadblock near the University of Nigeria Nsukka campus. The troops were led by Captain Abubakar Gora, and they opened fired on it. The vehicle's improvised armour withstood their bullets until it was attacked with the fearsome 106mm recoilless rifle which pierced its body. Ironically, the 106mm recoilless rifle was the same anti-tank weapon that Nzeogwu and other soldiers used in January 1966 to attack and destroy the official lodge of the Sardauna of Sokoto.

At this point, the accounts diverge. Olu Mamdap (former military driver to General Domkat Bali) witnessed the incident and claims that Nzeogwu and the other “two or three” occupants in the vehicle were killed while still inside the vehicle. Mamdap claims that it was not known that Nzeogwu was inside until the corpses were dragged out.

However Major-Generals Mohammed Shuwa and Abdullahi Shelleng (who were not present when Nzeogwu was killed but saw his corpse) claimed that while being fired on, Nzeogwu jumped out from the vehicle, shouted in Hausa and identified himself as Major Nzeogwu but was shot dead anyway. Ojukwu's mixed race half brother Tom Biggar was also killed along with Nzeogwu. Biggar was the child of Ojukwu’s mother with a European named Biggar.

Nzeogwu's corpse was identified by Lieutenant Abdullahi Shelleng who ordered that it should be stored firstly in the University of Nigeria campus at Nsukka. However, by the time Shelleng arrived, Nzeogwu's eyes had been plucked out in what appears to have been a ritual mutilation. According to Shelleng the soldier who shot Nzeogwu was ironically Nzeogwu's former batman. The corpse was later sent to 1 division headquarters in Makurdi where the 1 division commander Colonel Mohammed Shuwa informed the head of state Major-General Gowon. Despite the fact that Nzeogwu was now technically an enemy soldier killed in combat against the Nigerian army, Gowon ordered that Nzeogwu's body should be flown to Kaduna and buried with full military honours – even as the war raged on in the Eastern Region.

Even in death, Nzeogwu was still respected by federal and northern troops. Domkat Bali referred to him as:

“a nice, charismatic and disciplined officer, highly admired and respected by his colleagues. At least he was not in the habit of being found in the company of women all the time messing about with them in the officers mess, a pastime of many young officers then….we believed that he was a genuinely patriotic officer who organised the 1966 coup with the best of intentions who was let down by his collaborators….If we had captured him alive, he would not have been killed. I believe he probably would have been tried for his role in the January 15 coup, jailed and probably freed after some time. His death was regrettable.






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